MSHSL mulls transgender athlete guidelines; critics express concerns

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Transgender students who want to compete in high school sports in Minnesota face some potentially awkward moments with their teammates and coaches, particularly in locker rooms and shower facilities.

The Minnesota State High School League, which governs athletic and other competitive activities in high schools across the state, is considering a new policy that would clarify how transgender athletes can participate while protecting their privacy.

People who are transgender identify with the opposite gender of their birth, and often undergo therapy to change their gender.

The high school league's proposal has some parents up in arms, KARE 11 reports. The draft policy would allow transgender athletes to play sports based on the gender they identify with, not their gender of birth. So, for example, a female athlete who identifies as a male could play on a boy's team and use the boys' locker room.

League officials say they don't know of any instances yet where a transgender student was not allowed to participate in athletics, but they want to provide clear guidelines for schools and coaches on how to handle such situations if they arise.

The Minnesota High School League board will discuss the proposal at a board workshop on Wednesday afternoon, and plan to vote on Thursday.

Update: On Twitter, MSHSL Media Specialist John Millea provided some clarifications regarding the guidelines, including the following.

In addition, Millea tweeted the following (over the course of multiple tweets):

"32 states have policy/guideline/recommendations re transgender high school athletes. Minnesota does not. ... Each #mshsl school, public or private, would make their own decisions re transgender students. ... Federal Office of Civil Rights has ruled that discrimination against transgender students violates Title IX. #mshsl. ... Transgender policy would provide structure around an issue that already exists. Would not be a bylaw, would not be part of #mshsl Handbook."

The Minnesota Child Protection League opposes the policy, saying it's concerned about the privacy rights of other students, and took out a full-page ad in the Sunday Star Tribune to make that case.

Michele Lentz, state coordinator of the Child Protection League, told MPR News the group's members are up in arms.

"They didn't know that this policy was being considered and they're appalled," she said.

Lentz said the policy protects the privacy rights of transgender athletes, but "the rights of all other students to even be informed in advance, so they can protect their own privacy, is absent," according to KARE 11.

The Child Protection League campaigned unsuccessfully against the state's new bullying law when it was being debated at the Legislature. The law went into effect at the beginning of this school year.

The director of the high school league says the group's ad misleads readers about what's actually in the proposed policy.

David Stead said the policy makes it clear that transgender students should have the opportunity to compete in sports and their privacy will be protected, he told MPR News.

According to the policy, transgender high school students can play on the team of their choice (male or female) but have to have documentation from a physician to identify themselves as transgender, and provide information about any treatment they're undergoing to change their gender.

The policy's section on facilities states that a transgender athlete should use the locker room, shower and toilet facilities for the student's gender identity, and that whenever possible, every locker room should have private areas for any athlete who would like to use them.

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